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vaccine travel mandate

The “Best Available Science”: The CDC and the Vaccine Travel Mandate


It all started with a question – one I thought fairly simple: what data and studies has the CDC used to justify the mandate to exclude unvaccinated non-citizens, non-immigrants from entering the United States? The question stemmed from the Presidential Proclamation of 25 October 2021 in which President Biden declared a resumption of global travel to the United States.

The President proclaimed the administration would “…implement science-based public health measures” to control the transmission of COVID-19 for the nation. These measures were founded on three pillars of health and safety relating to COVID-19: vaccination, mask-wearing and testing. Of the three health pillars keeping Americans safe, mask-wearing was overturned by a court order on 18 April 2022 and the requirement for pre-departure testing was rescinded by the CDC on 10 June 2022

The last remaining bastion of protection for the American people from international COVID-19 transmission outlined in the Presidential Proclamation was vaccination. Considering two-thirds of the proclamation’s health measures had been removed by June, 2022, I thought it pertinent to find the scientific evidence for the continued exclusion of unvaccinated non-citizens, non-immigrants from entering the US. I began to scour the CDC’s website for the evidence to support such a policy, I thought that maybe the organization would have emblazoned with their policies the evidence supporting them. 

What I uncovered was a multitude of platitudes and a dearth of scientific evidence.  As concerning as excluding millions of individuals from travelling to the United States without clear justifications for such a policy is, I held faith that the CDC would be able to furnish me with the information I was seeking. 

So, in June of 2022, I emailed CDC Info and asked my question. I received an answer by July, but it was not quite the response I expected. Rather than supply the titles of the dozens of scientific studies they must have based their policy on, or the plethora of data upon which rested the last remaining pillar of the proclamation, they replied: “As part of the U.S. government response to COVID-19, decisions on COVID-19 travel requirements are informed by the best available science and made through an interagency decision-making process that includes the White House and other federal agencies.” 

They then assured me that the “CDC continues to evaluate the requirements of its Order and determine whether additional changes may be warranted based on current public health conditions and the best available science.” So, rather than supply the “best available science” relating to my question, the CDC confirmed that the policy was based on the best available science. 

Confused and despairing, I thought that maybe, just maybe, a Freedom of Information Act Request (FOIA) would be the next step in uncovering the CDC’s “best available science.” On 3 August 2022, I officially filed a FOIA Request to the CDC. I very quickly received a response from the CDC FOIA Department stating that due to the complicated nature of my question, I would likely need to pay for their services. I informed them that it was not a complicated question and that I expected an answer in short order as the CDC ought to have the scientific backing to support such a policy readily at hand. Begrudgingly, the CDC FOIA analyst supplied 3 studies in response to my request. I inquired whether these were the only studies on which the CDC based their policy and was bureaucratically assured they were. Case closed. 

As I perused the scientific studies that resulted from my request, I was appalled to find that all 3 studies concluded in approximately December 2021 and were therefore based – almost exclusively – on the Delta variant of COVID-19. Yet, according to a study by Yale, Delta accounted for 0 percent of COVID-19 infections in the US. by March, 2022. So, according to my interactions with the CDC, they were ensuring the best available science was being utilized to inform their policies.

This science was based on a variant that no longer existed in the United States. Yet the science informing the policy had not been updated as a new variant – Omicron – and its accompanying subvariants accounted for 100 percent of the COVID-19 infections in the United States. Therefore, the CDC and the Federal government continued to banish non-citizens, non-immigrants from entering the US based on outdated data while claiming to be informed by the best available science.  

Not one to quit, I thought I ought to follow up, once again with the CDC’s crack COVID-19 team that had already assured me the organization was operating on the best available science, although I had yet to see such science. On 22 September 2022, I managed to speak with a CDC COVID Response Specialist, Tanya. After asking my aforementioned question, Tanya informed me that part of the ongoing measure was based on the Do Not Board List (2007). She explained that the Do Not Board list prevented individuals who may be exposed to a communicable disease and may therefore – potentially – transmit the disease, could be excluded from boarding a plane and entering the US.

Such an explanation elicited more questions than answers. Considering the CDC scrapped the pre-departure testing requirement for any individual entering the United States in June 2022, any vaccinated individual could enter the US positive to COVID-19. As such, if the No Board Policy was the mortar holding the exclusionary vaccination bricks together, any entrant, regardless of vaccination status, should therefore be subject to the same measures.

To put it another way, if the CDC were utilizing the Do Not Board List to support the continued exclusion of unvaccinated non-citizens, non-immigrants, as Tanya suggested they were, no one should be allowed to enter the US as everyone entering could be a carrier and transmitter of COVID-19 regardless of vaccination status. 

Considering my communication with the CDC thus far had consisted of a series of platitudes assuring me that only the best available science was being considered, three outdated studies that examined a now-extinct variant, and a Do Not Board List that insured communicable diseases could enter the country via vaccinated and unvaccinated alike, I asked Tanya to pass my question on to another apparent CDC COVID-19 specialist. At the time of writing this piece, the specialist has yet to contact me.

Feeling despair but remaining undeterred, I thought I ought to reach out to the CDC COVID-19 Info hotline again. Maybe I would catch the here-to-fore elusive COVID-19 specialist who could answer what I thought was a simple question. I called the CDC hotline the next day, 23 September 2022. I was greeted with a lovely individual by the name of Maya. I asked Maya my question: what data and studies has the CDC used to justify the mandate to exclude unvaccinated non-citizens, non-immigrants from entering the United States? There was a pause on the line… “Umm…sure, I would love to help you with that today, do you mind if I put you on a brief hold while I get the information?”

I replied, “Maya, that would be fantastic. I have been searching for that information for months. If you can find it after a short hold, I would be delighted.”

Music filled the line, and for 5 minutes, my hopes were flying high, “Hello Hunter, I am very sorry, I still have not found the information you were looking for, do you mind if I put you on another short hold?”

“Maya, the CDC does base their policies on scientific evidence, correct?” I asked before she managed to push the hold button. 

“I’m sorry?” she replied.

“I mean, the CDC wouldn’t make an arbitrary policy that does not have scientific backing, right?” I pressed.

There was a pause. It was as though time stopped. I could hear the bureaucratic clock ticking away while Maya thought of how to answer my questions.  “Well, I can’t say one way or another, but if that is what you think,” Maya finally replied. I was taken aback; here I was speaking to a representative of the CDC and she was unable to tell me whether the CDC actually based their policies on scientific evidence. In the haze of her response, she once again asked if she could put me on hold to find the answer to my question. 

After I acquiesced, music again filled the line. Five more minutes elapsed before Maya returned, “I am sorry, I still have not been able to find the information. Can I put you on one more hold?”

Even after Maya returned from her exhaustive search through the annals of the CDC, she was still unable to obtain the information. She assured me that she could transfer me to a specialist who could produce what appeared to be the ark of the covenant, lost to the tides of the centuries that have elapsed since President Biden first issued the Proclamation: 25 October 2021. 

Maya transferred me through to Butch, the COVID-19 Specialist. Finally, here was the man of the hour; here was the man who had the answers; here was the conclusion of my search. After a friendly greeting, I asked the apparently tough question, the answer to which has evaded some of the greatest minds of the CDC that I had encountered: what data and studies has the CDC used to justify the mandate to exclude unvaccinated non-citizens, non-immigrants from entering the United States

There was a pause at the end of the line. Heavy breathing was the only response. Finally, after a moment of stunned silence, Butch replied “That is a good question.”

“I know! I’ve been looking for the answer for months!” We had arrived at the moment I had been seeking for so long. I was on the cusp of the answer for a policy that was excluding 3.3 billion people from America’s shores. 

“Can I put you on a brief hold to look for an answer?” Butch asked. For the first time since Butch the COVID-19 Specialist came on the line, doubt encroached. What would happen if Butch didn’t have an answer? Where would I go? I had been through 4 of the CDC’s finest before Butch, and now, I was on a familiar hold, thinking familiar thoughts, worrying familiar worries…what if this didn’t end with Butch? 

“I’m sorry, I can’t seem to find an answer to your question. What I can do is take down your question and send it to a specialist,” My heart broke with those words. Here I was simply searching for the information supporting a federal policy, yet I was now being sent to the Specialist of the CDC’s COVID-19 Specialist. Butch assured me that the Specialist’s Specialist would be in touch shortly with an answer. 

Considering how ardently the Biden administration, along with the majority of elected Democrats have assured the American public that their mandates were based on nothing shorter than the finest science the world has produced, it was troubling to think that they could not present any of it to support their policy to exclude billions from entering the US. My correspondence with the CDC consisted of reassurances that their policy was based on the “best available science” yet they had been unable to produce any of it. 

On 9 January 2023, Congressman Thomas Massie of Kentucky introduced a bill to the House of Representatives that would overturn Biden’s vaccination requirement: HR-185. The bill terminated the requirement to show proof of COVID-19 vaccinations to enter the United States and ensured the CDC could not reestablish such a measure in future. This was met with staunch opposition from House Democrats. According to Congresswoman Clark of Massachusetts and Democrat Whip, the exclusionary mandate ought to remain because 

House Democrats have been stalwart in their defense of following the science over playing politics with COVID-19. The decision to end vaccine requirements for global travelers should be made by the public health experts with real-time understanding of the situation. Hamstringing agencies from responding to ongoing or future threats that could impact the health and economic stability of America undermines our nation.

These “public health experts” Congresswoman Clark refers to must be relying on the same data and studies as the other nations continuing to enforce the same vaccination policies. Nations with equivalent health services to the CDC, such as Turkmenistan, Liberia, and Libya all remain in step with the Biden administration’s strong stance on “the best available science” to inform their policies and exclude unvaccinated entries through their borders. 

Adding weight to Congresswoman Clark’s stance on bill HR-185, Congressman Frank Pallone of New Jersey pontificated that 

This is the latest dangerous stunt…Vaccination is protective against severe illness and death from COVID-19. It reduces the impact of COVID-19 on our health care infrastructure, including hospital capacity and health care provider staffing. That is why the CDC order was put in place and why I continue to believe our public health experts are best positioned to make these kinds of determinations.

Congressman Pallone further stated that 

Democrats understand that we are entering a new phase of our response to COVID-19 and believe it is reasonable to reconsider some of the pandemic-related policies and whether they are still necessary. Instead of rushing partisan bills like this to the floor, we are willing to have bipartisan conversations on a path forward. However, we will never call into question the safety and efficacy of vaccines, we will not undermine the expertise of our public health officials, or put politics over science.

The strong language used by both Clark and Pallone confirmed that Congressman Massie and his fellow Republicans were, in fact, putting politics over the “best available science” regarding HR-185. Yet, the largest contributors to Congresswoman Clark’s 2022 election were from the health products and pharmaceutical industry. Congressman Pallone’s largest contributors were from “health professionals” followed closely behind by health products and the pharmaceutical industry.

On the other hand, Congressman Massie’s largest election contributor was from the retirement industry. If Clark and Pallone were informed by the “best available science” produced by the CDC and that science aligns itself with the equivalent institutions in Equatorial Guinea, Myanmar, and Indonesia (more of the last remaining nations with equivalent vaccination requirements as the US), why are their largest campaign contributors in the health products and pharmaceutical industries? 

The science indicates it is time to end COVID-19 mandates. As of 9 February 2023 the CDC considers less than 3 percent of the nation to be at “a high COVID-19 community level.” COVID-19-related hospitalization continues to drop even as less of the country follows through with the CDC’s recommended booster doses (only 15 percent of the US is “up-to-date” on their boosters). Yet the United States remains in a unique position of being closed to 30 percent of the world’s population.

Additionally, the CDC has confirmed that their COVID-19 prevention strategies “no longer differentiate based on a person’s vaccination status because breakthrough infections occur, though they are generally mild, and persons who have had COVID-19 but are not vaccinated have some degree of protection against severe illness from their previous infection.”

Even a cursory look at the available data and the CDC’s stance on vaccination one would conclude that overturning a mandate that continues to exclude unvaccinated legal entries into the United States aligns itself with the “best available science.” Any other position ought to be considered political at best or hypocrisy at worst.

The United States is the last remaining democracy to enforce exclusionary policies regarding COVID-19 vaccination. In the month that followed the end of the UK’s vaccine requirements in March 2022, COVID-19 infections dropped precipitously. The American public is also well aware that vaccination does not stop transmission, as Dr. Fauci pointed out in an interview. “One of the things that’s clear from the data [is] that even though vaccines – because of the high degree of transmissibility of this virus – don’t protect overly well, as it were, against infection…”.

An article from Scientific American confirmed Dr. Fauci’s assertion, “Once infected, vaccinated people seem to transmit COVID similarly to unvaccinated people… yet many vaccinated people are walking around this holiday season thinking their immunizations are force fields that not only protect them, but also shield vulnerable loved ones. They are not.” 

Continuing to exclude unvaccinated noncitizens, non-immigrants from entering the United States is a policy that puts politics over science. Politicians claiming the opposite to be true are funded by the very industries that benefit most from continuing with such a policy. Their pushback against ending the mandate is justified by their faith in the “best available science” yet that science cannot be produced by the very institution on whom the continuation of the mandate rests. 

They can only produce assurances that they are being informed by the “best available science” and thus, by assuring the public that such science exists, they do not have to produce it. It is a cyclical argument in which the only winners are the pharmaceutical industry and the biggest loser is the American people. Ending the vaccination mandate is the only way for the United States to align itself with “the best available science.”  

Published under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
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